What Is a Microaggression in the Era of Black Death?

A few days ago, I noticed one of the trending topics on Facebook was a story about a Black actress who tweeted something after getting a patronizing greeting while boarding her flight in first class. I recognized it as a microaggression on the part of the employee, but I thought it was not just petty for that employee to respond in such a way, but also petty for the actor to tweet about it, and petty for it to become a trending topic.

I’ve lately been caught up in the political measures and actions that disproportionately and devastatingly affect material realities for people and communities of color, particularly poor ones. The ways that Midwestern governors are stripping the social safety net on a daily basis. The Blue Lives Matter law when the practice of police lynchings of black people has become public. The recent gutting of the Fourth Amendment by five of eight Supreme Court Justices. Using capitalist-style competition (which is not how the Capitalist Class operates but merely how they have us operate) to dismantle and destroy public schools in Detroit and, frankly, everywhere else. Islamophobic police strip searchesPre-crime policing of black and brown youth in Chicago. The Puerto Rican debt crisis. The fact that gun control is being used to further police and surveil Muslim and Muslim-misidentified communities and people.

These stories were not trending on Facebook.

And this isn’t even hinting at the militarization of security at airports that targets people of color and people with disabilities.

And so I continued the trend of pettiness and surpassed the previous levels of petty pettiness by posting the story and pettily adding the petty lines “BFD” [“Big Fucking Deal”] and “*rolls eyes*”. A friend confronted me on it, and I’m grateful to her because it re-grounded me.

I had to confront what in me (outside of just a crappy mood for personal reasons) positioned me to such pettiness. Part of it was the material realities outlined above. But then there were three other takeaways as well:

  1. While microaggressions themselves may seem minor, a thousand papercuts are lethal, and dozens take their exhaustive toll on an already-exhausted public body.
  2. The metaphor is reality. I say this as an English teacher and as a student of society and racial realities. In this case, the metaphor denying and policing space for People of Color is intricately connected to the public and societal policies denying and policing space for People of Color. A black woman feels a patronizing slight against her having a seat in first class? Look into who tends to occupy those seats; they are rarely black people. While the employee may not have intended to send the message that  Danielle Brooks doesn’t belong in the luxury portion of the airplane*, that is still the message. A White Christian makes a joke about a Muslim woman being a suicide bomber, but it’s a joke get it – no harm done! Except that the harm is done and that is to publicly police private people whenever and wherever the State and corporations have yet to exclude, detain, or kill them. In point of fact, the whole Donald Trump campaign is wish-fulfillment to turn microaggressions into public, perpetual policies.
  3. This one is just a reminder for me and all the other white (and white-passing) people: I don’t experience racial microaggressions** so maybe I should be reverential around the issue?

*Intentions are often a red herring that center the story back on white people and their presumed innocence rather than on the system of White Supremacy and how it daily affects people of color

**Being called “white ass” in grade school and having people stare me down in my own neighborhood because I don’t look like I belong doesn’t really count. While they happen, they’re far too infrequent to be at the level of irritant and they are not connected to, say, lynchings or redlining, respectively.

Land, Dispersal, and Culture without People

Gentrification is a social force with its own reasons, justifications, and rules. It is one of the last remaining engines of blatant racism left to prosper openly in Northern and liberal urban areas like Chicago, New York, LA, and Portland. A primary reason for its thriving despite the harm it causes Black and Brown people is that gentrification is an economic powerhouse. But another driving reason is the very fact it harms Black and Brown communities.

That is to say, especially since the 1960’s, we’ve not liked organized poor people. And the one resource that poor people have when the capitalists have stolen our labor power and landlords, taxes, service companies, and mercs have taken what’s left, is organized power. The management political class in our communities do not represent us – they serve other powers, higher powers: namely, organized money. So the greatest wheel-house we have left for political power is the ability to be and the manifestation of being organized. That is how we survive. When people have little else, we depend on each other. Institutions serve their own self-survival needs, so while the poor often have access to institutions, the institutions are not at their beck-and-call; they tend to follow and obey the money. Often, our connection with economic and social institutions is of exploitation. Being very poor is to be marginalized from and within economic and social institutions even when they are ostensibly for our service.

However, if we only asked the city to merely deliver meager social services and fix potholes, the engines and friends at city hall would not mind so much. But when we demand that things be taken care of, that the wheels of justice be churned in our direction, that we receive jobs and programs, that the cops stop harassing and killing our young ones, that our parks are maintained, that our schools are furnished, lit, full of trained, positive teachers, books, and toilet paper, then the city, being first and foremost an extension of the bourgeoisie, aim to destroy our mechanisms of power and protest. That is to say, our communities.

We can of course afford to resource the communities after People of Color leave it*, but to do so while they reside here is to use government coffers.That, to neoliberals, would be too much welfare. Apparently, investing in communities is only ok if done with private money backed by public funds when there is private money to be made. That way, money stays fluid and can be detached from communities. As liberal economist Paul Krugman put it while talking about Puerto Rico recently (emphasis mine):

The safety net is there to protect people, not places. If a regional economy is left stranded by the shifting tides of globalization, well, that’s going to happen now and then. What’s important is that workers be able to find opportunities somewhere, and that those unable for whatever reason to take advantage of these opportunities be protected from extreme hardship.

[h/t to Rod Thomas for the find]

Of course this understanding erases place and the reality of a people connected to that place. It removes land from community and community from land.

For Puerto Rico, this is troubling for many reasons. While Puerto Ricans from the mid-20th century until currently have tended to migrate continuously between the island (colony) and the mainland (colonizer) – with my neighborhood Humboldt Park being a mainstay in the ever-transition – Puerto Rico is rightly considered home to most BorinquenXs. Their current debt crisis is a divestment leading to an undoing of the collective, spiritual home while gentrification was a divestment that lead to an undoing of the communitative, material home.

So, land of poor communities can not be protected, thus poor communities cannot be either. Somehow we can protect the people without protecting their communities. This is White Neoliberal Thought in action.

But not only that, we’ve learned we can also keep the legacy of the cultures of people of color alive, while at the same time killing off the communities of people of color. We can in effect maintain Latin-American drinks at prices most LatinXs cannot afford in an area currently swiping itself clean of LatinXs.

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MUCH LATIN! via Chicago Eatery

According to hyper local site DNAinfo/Chicago, “Estereo Bringing Latin-American Drinks, Vibe To Logan Square.” This is a very nice gesture from the same restaurant group that brought us such authentically LatinX restaurants as “Sportsman’s Club, Lone Wolf, Bar DeVille and Pub Royale among others” as Logan Square (adjacent to Humboldt Park) is running out of Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, and various other LatinXs/Latin-Americans. I mean, what kind of vibe do LatinXs produce in their own space anyway, rite?

What this story and location eventually reminded me of was the habit of Indian mascotry, where American sports corporations, capitalists and fans claim to “honor the legacy” of Native Americans while parading around as cartoon versions of Natives. Meanwhile, actual, human Natives live in abject poverty on ‘trust’ lands overseen by the US government. These topics are not in the least unrelated.

The Homestead Act gave collective Indian land to private, White citizens of the United States. The way they were able to maintain this control and keep this control for White Supremacist Capitalism is by erasing all other people from ownership of the land.

LatinXs and Black Americans have “culture” that White America can mine while stealing their work power, detaining them, and dispersing them like riot police. Effective redlining, mass incarceration, immigration raids and sending back refugee children to their imminent deaths are only a part of the tactic. What does it mean that Black and Brown Americans always have worked the land but rarely own the land? When they do own land, they are dispersed from it via gentrification.

American Empire continually steals Indian lands. Think of pipelines and water rights. Think of the lack of sovereignty of Indian spaces. Meanwhile its inhabitants and corporations steal Indian “culture” (How many folks say their great-grandmother is half-Cherokee and spout ridiculous “Indian” chants? The ‘sexy Indian’ costume) and turn a people into mythological cartoons and costumes.

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And it’s not just conservatives, sports fans, and Dan Snyder that do this racist mascotry.

Gentrification – retaining cultural elements while destroying or erasing the community that it is situated from – is consuming to destroy.  It is a win-win for racist capitalism: consuming of land and cultures of color and an assassination of communities of color.

Gentrification is cultural genocide.


  • A different argument should be made for white rural areas that were jutted after mining. It’s a different engine itself and looks and works differently, but some of the same factors are in play. In this case, public resources stripped for private profit and delivered to public consumption using wage slave labor. And, now what?

Racial Mascotry and the Space for “Enlightening Discussions”

Over the last several years, as students and activists of color have been increasingly organizing around issues of racial (and economic) injustice particularly as affects them, you may have also noticed more than a fair share of pushback from mainstream and liberal publications (whereas previously most of the counter-resistance was from conservative outlets). Washington Post, New York Times, The Atlantic, The Nation, etc, etc, seem to be in need of op-eds and features written by establishment, upper-middle class people about the perils of allowing these protesters too much space in the public imagination.

Their arguments are that the activists are too violent, that they are childish, pouting, not ready for the real world, denying freedom of speech and freedom of expression in the school. They argue that ‘woke’ Milennials seeking safe places are a threat to academic freedom and the classroom, and that they are being coddled and babied.

Most of these arguments are simply dismissed by applying the title of Adam Kotsko’s blog, “What If I Told You that the Whole World Is Your Safe Place?” to the very people complaining about the struggle of these students to find a safe place of their own.

But yet there is a part of me concerned about academic freedom and about workers’ rights (noticeably the right to secure employment that is not threatened by non-work related experiences and ambushes by social media). For me, seeking penal justice gives more ammunition (so to speak) to the very forces of White Supremacy that have criminalized people of color and organized forms of resistance (notice, for example, how in one state resistance to the police is now categorized as a hate crime–  a bill hailed as Blue Lives Matter Law in recognition of its counter to Black Lives Matter activism).

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It was in this frame of mind that I read Conor Friedersdorf’s highly-opinionated-yet-delivered-as-if-rational (which is to say, stripped of its context of racial violence) article “The Perils of Writing a Provocative Email at Yale” in The Atlantic and first came away thinking, “Aw man, that’s fucked up what happened to those professors.”

I had to come back to it later. The language in here made me think that the costumes were merely “offensive”, as if someone was bothered by clown make up. I thought at first glance that the email was largely harmless, certainly not on the order of a firing.

But riding on my bike, I thought about the gentrifiers coming into my neighborhood, Humboldt Park in Chicago, and wanting to tear down the beautiful Puerto Rican flag that has been a symbol of this Boriquen Oasis for decades on the grounds that it is somehow “racist” – despite the fact that it is the White people forcefully displacing Ricans. I thought about how White people had created a Facebook page calling themselves “The Puerto Ricans of Humboldt Park” and employing every racist, classist stereotype they could of my people – thugs, rapists, thieves, car jackers, drug users, lazy, welfare dependents. These are people, they heavily suggested in their caricatures, who deserve to be kicked out and denied access and opportunity. I thought what I would think if White people moving into Humboldt Park and Logan Square walked around in “Jibarito” costumes. I was then flushed with anger and resentment.

And then I was able to re-situate the Atlantic article. Yale, George W Bush’s alma mater, is well-known as one of the Whitest of the Whitest of White institutions. But Friedersdorf and the “provocative email” writers, Nicholas and Erika Christakis, assume that students of color can just have enlightening conversations with White students who wear their faces as if they are trophies on their walls.

Native Mascotry is a term created by American Indian activist Jacqueline Keeler to describe how Natives’ identities are being worn by sports teams and others as a way of cultural genocide. While not wanting to erase her work and what this means as it relates to Native American people and communities (particularly in light of the bullshit campaign by Dan Snyder and the Washington Post to once again pretend that a racist slur is a responsible and respectful honorific to an oppressed people group), I’d like to consider what it means that people of color are being mascot-ed through costume.

This extended mascotry – dressing as “gangsters” or “Chinese” for Halloween, as “Mexican” for Cinco de Mayo, as “Indian” for game day – is not separate from other forms of institutional racism and racial violence. In fact, it’s an integral aspect of racial violence. It is the physical and visual enactment of racist justification played out in the social sphere. “These people are no more than cartoons and thus are not hared by how we treat them.” The implication is that these mascot-ed/costume-d cultures and communities cannot and should not be taken seriously, nor their concerns; that they are not real or normal (read: White people). This mascotry is socially-inhabited psychological warfare.

It is not a simple feat to meet people committing psychological warfare against your very family and culture on any sort of level ground. The power dynamics are off and thus you are not entering a place for dialog.

I still do not know what any sort of proper response is to this. I don’t think the approach is as simple as firing or using the justice system. However, as resident life coordinators, however, it seems that Christakis’ were unsuited to the task that would make Yale hospitable for students of color.

Maybe the solution lies in White people not being so offended when they realize that they and their concerns are not the center of the universe. That would be a start.

Uber & The 606: The Worth and Work of Women of Color in the Neoliberalism Era

While riding with my daughter the other morning, we traveled down the new above-ground park-slash-bike/jogging trail called conversely The Bloomingdale Trail and The 606. While grabbing some water on the way up the 606, I noticed the trail was extra busy, with many joggers and walkers as it was such a brilliant, nice day. Two joggers I noticed in particular were white women just coming out of an Uber driven by a black woman. The moment was too delicious for simple irony, yet too bitter to b satisfying.

For those unfamiliar with the history of the Bloomingdale Trail, a railroad line heavy with cargo used to pass through the Chicago neighborhoods of Bucktown, Logan Square, and Humboldt Park. While the lines it adjoins to the west are still in heavy use, over the last fifteen or so years, the nearly three mile stretch grew weeds and would occasionally host the straggling jogger.

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Bloomingdale Trail pre-park via Field Guide to Nature

About ten years ago, members of the Logan Square and Humboldt Park communities would meet to discuss plans for how to use the railway to benefit the neighborhoods. At this time, both neighborhoods were largely working class LatinX and – with the exception of the large and beautiful Humboldt Park and the boulevard system running through it – possessed very little green or public space. So they began a dream of turning the infrastructure of the railway into a pedestrian park.

This dream was fast-tracked some years later under Mayor Rahm Emanuel when he realized this park was a way to build up a tax revenue base. Which is to say it was a good way to build more outside interest in an area already facing massive gentrification. The months surrounding its opening saw people being priced out of their homes as nearby rents dramatically increased 40-100% and long-term homeowners were scared off by the prospect of substantially higher tax rates.

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Normally not as festive. Credit: Adam Alexander Photography via The Trust for Public Land

What is becoming common knowledge in gentrified Chicago is that our city uses good things to draw in wealthier and wealthier people – not just to build a tax base, but to drive the poor apart from their collective actions so there is little recourse left but to give up. It is systemic disengagement and disunion of Black and Brown communities. This is especially lethal as Black and Brown communities cannot rely on common or familial wealth, nor of basic services. Thus they must and do rely on support networks in their communities. 

So gentrification isn’t making the community better, it’s using long-delayed improvements of the community which were called by the community to displace and fracture that same living and fighting community and replace it with a permanently mobile economic force. One that either cannot or does not need to fight back.

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Logan Square Neighborhood Assn protest against gentrification. Photo by Tyler ReViere via Chicagoist

What gentrification does to black and brown communities, however, the Sharing Economy as highlighted by Uber does to worker communities.

The taxi business has largely been run by immigrants and, while far from perfect, has been a means for people of color to survive when few other options are available. Because of the intimacy of the ride, the dangers of the road, the semi-freelancing of the gig, the potential violence that drivers face, the taxi business relied on safeguards such as unionization, licensing, and medallion-winning to protect the consumer and the worker.

Most of these regulations have been sidestepped by the would-be taxis in the ride-sharing business. When Uber and Lyft, et al, came to Chicago, the neoliberal administration headed by Emanuel did away with most of those regulations. But they came with technology that made it easier and faster to hail a cab, as well as an economic structure that made too much sense on the face of it. In its introductory phase, the cost of a ride in an Uber was considerably cheaper than one in a taxicab. Outside of the share that is given to Uber for the technology and use, the rest is given to the driver-owner, who is not leasing a car but using their own. Of course, this model is only possible because the driver is not an employee (and thus the costs of living are transferred to someone else, such as other employers, the drivers, and the government) and thus Uber gets to have and eat its cake.

However, in a model learned from Wal-Mart, as this cheaper model of taxiing begins to saturate the market, it forces out the old cab drivers and their unions – the communities that they built up. As the competition is being gutted, Uber raises the fees for both the consumer and the contractor. This has already started happening at certain peak hours, where costs are exponentially higher.

So Uber will eventually out-Uber itself as a de-unionized, untrained, and even unvetted workforce rises to replace an older community of working class people of color, only to themselves be ushered out by more desperate people looking for even fewer scraps.

In short, more working class women of color will be driving more professional class white people to a park dreamt up by working class women of color but implemented by professional class white people in order to drive out the working class women of color – but for less and less payout.

The Age of Late Neoliberalism is especially adept at not just taking crises and turning them into opportunities for the Investor Class, but also at taking lovely things – often things we create – and turning those against us. See for instance how the city of Chicago turns neighborhood parks into music festivals (often featuring artists of color from working class roots) as an aid in gentrification and homeless erasure. Or how art, artists, and art fests have been used to displace Logan Square residents (while LatinX and Black art are still drastically underfunded starting at the school level). Notice how a Logan Square developer/evil landlord boasts about investing in neighborhood as a means to drastically raise rents.

Despite these tactics, enjoy the beautiful and the lovely. I travel the 606 with pride, as do many WCPOC. This is our neighborhood. We’ve lived here and suffered the worst through disinvestment and we should have good things available to us without guilt. Like your music and your coffee shops. But it is to say that the tools of the Neoliberal Age toward its anti-communal goals are tricky, and we must recognize them to navigate them and beat them to the punch.

Enjoy your day. Party. And fight.

Colonialism, Private Property, and Repairs

As several commentators have recently had to address reparations while the proliferation of white, male Bernie Sanders’ supporters talk over and for other groups (“Bernie Bros”), thought it may be time to have a discussion on what reparations could look like since many seem stuck on the notion of cash payouts. First, a primer on the relationship between race, class, gender, and property.

Race is a social construct made necessary for the wealth exploitation of racism, an invention of the colonizing West dating back at least to the Spanish explorations  exploitations of the New World and the Portuguese explorations exploitations of Africa. Racism was a necessity for the wealth building that would be the foundation of capitalism and the modern world, by which most of the world is still exploited vis a vis racism.

The legacy of the United States and other Western powers, as marked by none other than Marx, in regards to black and native people is one of severe wage theft and land plunder, buoyed by state-sanctioned murder. This is not a radical or new concept to anyone familiar with US history near the margins; this is the foundation of land grabs and reservations, chattel slavery and sharecropping, Jim Crow and mass incarceration necessary for American economic and military expansion. This is the legacy of colonialism and empire brought to a head.

This theft and murder did not end 150 years ago nor 50 years ago nor – despite a slowing – will it end anytime in the foreseeable future on its own. There is a necessity to correct the evils of police brutality and mass incarceration focused on black and brown people as well as the numerous schemes* to steal the labor, wages, property, and wealth of Native and Black people. To not correct and make right is to accept the evils of racism and exploitation through the course of American blood.

In a White Supremacist Capitalist system like the United States (or the rest of the West), we cannot come to terms with classism and wage theft without antagonizing racism.

Likewise, we cannot hope to defeat racism without confronting classism.

Indeed we also cannot address these concerns separate from sexism and gender.

We cannot center these concerns on the feelings of white men. We cannot understand the gravitas of these concerns without considering how they affect the Black and Native family and the ones directly affected by it due to their weight and responsibility – the women in these communities.

Not class over race but race as a tool of class with different strata depending on ethnicity and color. Starting as early as Reconstruction, Black people were made to be the permanent underclass of the United States, partially as a means of keeping the white masses in check. Natives are in a continual genocide-erasure, as a means of continuing to claim deed over the nation’s lands.

But I’m honestly more interested at this point in how reparations can work. To me, the notion of cash payouts makes little sense. The money is there, the money is gone – this is the fate for all poor people within a status-heavy consumer capitalist society. This is why lottery winners go broke within a few years. Poor people are exploited even with our wealth.

What does make more sense is community investments.

The following loose suggestions are based in large part on years of living in highly segregated Chicago and from hearing others. So there are a few biases here – some ideas are more thought out than others (ie, I don’t know nearly as much about Native communities), but the idea is to offer suggestions and begin to get the creative juices flowing. Feel free to add, think about, take, adapt in the comments and elsewhere.

Reparations for African Americans:

  • Land and property within African American communities given to those communities. This would include vacant lots, abandoned buildings, residential buildings. To be divided up according to community needs and desires.
  •  Grants for businesses within black communities, including lending institutions, grocers
  • Influx of black-owned and operated grocers provided by funds
  • Land and water set aside for urban farming purposes
  • Part ownership of all US-based banks, universities, and other institutions that profited heavily from slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, housing theft on the backs of Black labor and violence.

Reparations for Natives:

  • Full sovereignty of lands
  • Minority stake/ownership claims in all US corporations
  • Taking down of all Indian Mascotry in sports
  • Business and community investments

Reparations for Women:

  • Universal, unquestioned access to reproductive rights
  • Universal childcare
  • Comprehensive and age-appropriate sexual and gender justice training throughout schooling
  • Comprehensive domestic violence and abuse prevention training and resources
  • Laws protecting against gender wage disparity

Primarily though, the work of reparations is to repair and thus must be both of liberatory and solidarity actions in steps, goals, and outcomes. I believe that public works and public goods programs will lift all working class and middle class families, but proportionately the above. Minimum basic income would raise all out of poverty (with the exception of undocumented citizens at present rate of national conversation. Something else will need to be in place for their protections), but particularly for women and people of color as well as poor white people. Universal childcare will mostly positively affect mothers, but other parents as well.

It’s I think important to note that these gender and racial thefts are components of a wider scale plan and system against the overwhelming majority of people in both the United States and in the worldOxfam recently released a study showing that the world’s 69 richest people hold as much wealth as half the people in the world – that’s 3,500,000,000 people who collectively have as little scrape together as less than 70 people. And the wealth of those top 69 people has only increased in the last five years – by 42% – while the wealth of the lower 3.5 billion fell 41%. In 2015, for the first time, 1% of the world’s population owns more assets than the other 99%.

So the problem is widespread, but by reducing racism and sexism and making repairs to those who’ve been harmed by it, we can open up the doors for all to benefit.

 

———————

*Pay day and car title loans, check cashing stations, preventative childcare costs, prepaid phones, redlining, rent rates, gentrification, policing fees, cash bail – all unfairly and unduly targeting the black working class.

Does #BlackLivesMatter Need the Church?

My undoing may be my morbid curiosity with how mainstream Evangelicalism responds and reacts to movements of liberation and to the needs and material lives of People of Color – but especially when the two are together. For these reactions tell us something about the soul of White Evangelicalism, how it is concerned with a certain status quo, and how that status is whiteness and the quo is individuality.

After the brouhaha about InterVarsity Fellowship’s declaration for (later tamed down to a “discussion about”) Black Lives Matter, Christianity Today – the imprint closest to what we’d consider the heart of the Evangelical Mainstream and thus the nearest singular approximation to its soul – published a review of Jim Wallis’ new book, America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America. Christianity Today’s title of the review of this mainstay within the political left wing of Evangelicalism? “Why #BlackLivesMatter needs the church: The fight for racial justice in America can’t succeed without a God-centered vision.”

Read that again.

“Why #BlackLivesMatter needs the church: The fight for racial justice in America can’t succeed without a God-centered vision.”

Not, “Why the church needs #BlackLivesMatter” or “How can the church support #BlackLivesMatter and black lives”.

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no no no no no cat

nope nope nope nope

Despite differences with Joshua Ryan Butler, the reviewer of the book, (who felt that Wallis’ anti-racism wasn’t theologically grounded enough within the work itself. We’ll address that in part later), he confirmed to me that he did not write the title, nor was there anything within the article itself that would lead to the same conclusion that the title and subtitle did. The problem may just be that some of the Christianity Today editors write these titles and others are just fine with these titles. 

A magazine that occasionally features writing by a Neoconfederate Rape Apologist (Douglas Wilson) and that last year had a cover feature on a White Messiah who financed the Kony 2012 project and a paramilitary group in Central Africa is not in a position to lecture black people about what is best for black people.

But then, neither is the Church. And, as my friend Rod taught me to ask, When we talk about The Church, we should ask Which Church? Is it the White Evangelical Churches that constitute the base of Christianity Today content providers and audience? Is it the Black Churches vying for position in the post-Civil Rights Movement eras that lagged far behind the Black Lives Matter movement and most liberationist ones? White suburban Churches that call for criminalization of black people? Megachurches silent about the racial wealth gap while amassing wealth for themselves?

Why should churches have any control over the movement? What have they to offer the movement? I would ask what churches can add to the movement, and that would be a valid question for churches to consider, but that is not what CT was suggesting. In saying the movement or any racial justice movement will fail without a “God-centered vision”, it is seeking explicit control of the message and the means of the Black Lives Matter and other Black liberationist movements. And since most of the churches in America – including the vast majority of those in the Christianity Today envelope – are antagonistic towards LGBTQ people and rights, and since many White churches are pro-incarceration and pro-police…

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No.

In this era, US churches are not leading any sort of revolution for the improvement of the lives of the oppressed. Rather, they are engrossed with holding on to what little is slipping out of their fingers. Including good publicity.

But no, Christianity Today argues, black liberation cannot succeed unless it is under the same theology that 150 years ago argued for black enslavement, 50 years ago justified second-class citizenship and this year is silent about black life in a hostile country.

Christianity Today is out of its mind.

What’s observable from the review itself – without the benefit of reading the book – is that Wallis isn’t as interested in an individualistic sin-and-salvation narrative as much as between people, as social groups and social beings. Butler refers to the former as “vertical” relationships, between the one and the One and the latter as “horizontal”. He believes that this emphasis “flattens out” the Gospel, but my experience is that Evangelicalism has focused so much on the vertical that it neglects the latter, so that a little corrective, to say the least, should not be discouraged.

In fact, a practiced theology centered around Matthew 25? Sounds like something that can save the Church.

 

Martin Luther King and King Falwell

As I’ve said several times and will say many times to come, Martin Luther King, Jr. is known by most for one line in one speech and wearing suits when he protested*. It’s this sheer veneer of a hagiography of King that allows Liberty University to welcome #DonaldNaziTrump to give the MLK address. Which is weird because presidential candidate Donald Trump is basically running as a national Sheriff Bull Connor. But the higher-ups at the conservative Evangelical Liberty U, despite having many students of color, feel the xenophobic, misogynistic, racist, jingoistic Trump is an appropriate speaker for a retrospective on Martin Luther King, Jr.

“We chose that day so that Mr. Trump would have the opportunity to recognize and honor Dr. King on MLK day,” Liberty University President (and son of founder) Jerry Falwell, Jr. told The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

[Falwell] pointed to King’s principle that people should be judged, as King put it ‘not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.’
“Liberty stands for that principle and I believe that Mr. Trump does as well,” he said.

Liberty’s Falwell Jr. swears that a crude, racist, violence-loving capitalist class fascist lives by Martin Luther King’s standards. Let’s think about the abundantly evident patterns being made here for a moment.

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Jerry Falwell, Jr. giving a speech at Liberty University

The first being that there is little critical analysis of King’s legacy in the public eye. Just like Jesus, we remake him in personal images because we don’t want to scrutinize the text – and even when we do, we are rarely honest about the presuppositions we carry with us in our readings.

Take this consideration in combination with the fact that Jerry Falwell, Jr. is a crude, racist, violence-loving capitalist theocrat, like his father Jerry Falwell, Sr. before him. And that he interprets others in binary models in this framework. If they are good, they think like him and are like him. If they are bad  they may or may not think like him, but are on the receiving end of his actions – for example, those Muslims that he told Liberty students to “end” and should be “taught a lesson”.

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Justin Sullivan – Getty Images North America

Contrary to King’s most famous mode of organizing, Falwell, Jr. told his Christian students that they should arm themselves. In their school. Never mind the implications of intimate violence in an environment rife with hyper-masculine theology and ecclesiology. While King advocated nonviolence as a means of organizing protest, it was as a critique of violence located within White Supremacist democracy. We can’t talk about nonviolent agitation without acknowledging that it is an organized resistance to the locus of violence: White Supremacist Empire.

King, it should be noted, was not strictly opposed to gun ownership for black families in terms of protecting their homes from direct white violence (cf Taylor Branch’s At Canaan’s Edge). Malcolm and the Panthers preached that this personal method of protection should be extended to organizational efforts against the threat of White violence. In the end, Dr. King and the Black Panthers fell to White violence and intentional disruption (and Malcolm would have likely have done so too if his life wasn’t cut short by an internal power play).

If Falwell, Jr. is to be believed and White Christians are under violent siege from Muslims, then and only then can his call to arms be taken seriously.

But

we

aren’t.

Muslims in the US and abroad are exponentially more likely to be harmed and killed by White American Christian violence than white Christians are by Extremist Muslim violence. In this scenario, Falwell represents the Klan, mob violence, and lynchings that King and his contemporaries were under threat from and (sometimes) armed themselves against.

This centering and outpouring of White violence coupled with the economic terror known as capitalism is central to how Jr. envisions Jesus and Martin Luther King. So of course Trump – another crude White Supremacist capitalist – speaking at an event honoring the pacifist, anti-racist, class-consciousness King is perfectly acceptable.

Trump, Falwell Jr. tells us, reminds him of his father.

President Ronald Reagan and Rev. Jerry Falwell

Jerry Falwell, Sr., by the way conspired with FBI Director J Edgar Hoover to spread propaganda about King and elevated American capitalism over and above the health of Black Americans. In the 1960’s, he preached that racial segregation was ordained by God. And…

In a 1964 sermon, “Ministers and Marchers,” Falwell attacked King as a Communist subversive. After questioning “the sincerity and intentions of some civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. James Farmer, and others, who are known to have left-wing associations,” Falwell declared, “It is very obvious that the Communists, as they do in all parts of the world, are taking advantage of a tense situation in our land, and are exploiting every incident to bring about violence and bloodshed.”

Falwell concluded, “Preachers are not called to be politicians, but soul winners.”

Then, for a time, Falwell appeared to follow his own advice. He retreated from massive resistance and founded the Lynchburg Christian Academy, an institution described by the Lynchburg News in 1966 as “a private school for white students.”

Note: Many progressives tend to overplay Falwell’s post-Brown V. Board explicit racism as the genesis and centrality of Liberty University and his Moral Majority. Falwell Sr would later repudiate and even destroy remaining copies of sermons such as “Ministers and Marchers” and “Segregation or Integration: Which?” – arguably for political and numerical reasons, to further his reach and base among those who did not care for such explicit racism. The concern here is this false thinking that racism, like misogyny, is only real and harmful when it’s explicit rather than structural. The Moral Majority and Falwell both endorsed policies and practices which were functionally racist and sexist, but not out of a desire to be racist or sexist.

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For God and the Empire – via Wiki

In the contemporary West, the White Supremacist Empire is located in the relation that the state and its arms (the police and the military) have with corporations and banks. This was true during King’s era as seen in Jim Crow and Vietnam, and it is true in its current manifestations of the War on Crime and the War on Terror. On the rare, exaggerated, and misattributed occasion that peaceful protests get out hand and start burning or looting, White media and masses tend to focus on that rather than the White violence that is the we fail to recognize actual violence.

The actual violence is that people, and especially black and brown people, are commodified and perceived as property in the first place. We see how this happens in both practice (privatization of black and brown schools; overpolicing) and in memory (King as nice-&-eloquent black man who asked whites to free his people).

———————

*For more, check out Austin Channing Brown’s “What Would MLK Do?

 

Do Black Lives Matter to Evangelicals? Show It.

There’s something oddly familiar about the way that Larycia Hawkins is being treated by White Evangelicals. An intelligent black, political person with a Liberation Theology backgrond and a funny (by Anglo standards) name makes statements in solidarity with Muslims. The result is that conservative White Evangelicals question her loyalty and fidelity to America and to Christianity.

The obvious counterpart is President Obama, the “Secret Muslim” and “Terrorist Sympathizer”. In Obama’s case, fortunately, his job did not rest fully on the whims of White Evangelicals – though they have made things harder for him, and for the rest of us. The major difference of course is that Hawkins actually promotes peaceful solidarity and has not sent in drone strikes that kill hundreds of Muslim children each year (Which means she automatically gets my vote).

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Dr Hawkins addresses media at her church over Wheaton College’s actions against her

Despite Evangelical rancor, Wheaton College is not firing Hawkins because she has said or done anything opposing or outside of Wheaton’s Statement of Faith. The statement of faith is important to Evangelical concerns because it plays into the identity politics at its core – that what we believe about things is more important than what we do, who we are, how we can get along, how we treat each other. And so this document is central to Wheaton’s identity. And by way of measure, what was said in the document should be how Hawkins could understand herself to operate as a fully-engaged faculty member within the parameters of Wheaton. Within this framework, even if nudging just a bit, Larycia Hawkins and any other faculty member should be safe* from such scrutiny within the bounds of the established parameters. From the Chicago Tribune:

Hawkins has been asked to affirm the college’s statement of faith four times since she started teaching at Wheaton nearly nine years ago. She was first admonished for writing an academic paper about what Christians could learn from black liberation theology, which relates the Bible with the often-troubled history of race relations in America. Jones said Hawkins’ article seemed to endorse a kind of Marxism.

She was called in a year later to defend a photograph someone posted on Facebook showing her at a party inside a home on Halsted Street the same day as Chicago’s Pride Parade. Last spring she was asked to affirm the statement again after suggesting that diversifying the college curriculum should include diplomatic vocabulary for conversations around sexuality.

None of this is outside the parameters of the college’s SoF. But therein lies the problem. White Evangelicalism’s parameters are not just what is said, but what is implied and implicated as well particularly by its well-heeled backers.

  • Violence is God’s means to redemption.
  • Capitalism is God-ordained.
  • God blesses America.
  • Heteronormativity is God-ordained and LGBTQ people are under God’s attack.
  • European theology is superior to Black and Latin theology.
  • Abortion is the primary sin of America.

Liberation theology – which Hawkins espouses and which she was previously censured by the school for – is viewed as particularly suspect because it violates at least two, if not most or all, of the aforementioned rules. Hawkins was also previously under fire for desiring and even personally having friendly, non-antagonistic relations with LGBTQ people.

But for the most part, these are the orthodox concerns of those who fund, not those who teach and inhabit, who are actually at the frontline of Wheaton. The same can be said with concern to the Black Lives Matter staging and unqualified support that happened at Urbana this past month as well, which the collegiate missions ministry InterVarsity Fellowship followed-up with a clarification/apology statement that muddied the waters of what solidarity should look like. The event itself was a major step forward for a White-headed Evangelical organization, in its declarative proclamation that Black Lives do Matter to God and thus should to all Christians.

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Black Lives Matter t-shirts worn by worship team members at the Evangelical Urbana Conference

But this declaration scared its donor base and so IVF had to reify its commitments to the Implied Statement of Belief. In doing so, IVF leaders had to clarify that they support black lives and the pre-born. But the most important message, the one that the donors needed to hear, is that the anti-abortion message is clear and without wavering. That the lives of (cis, straight) Black men and women are important to Evangelical institutions but do not trump the current Evangelical orthodoxy cause of fighting against abortion.

To answer John Inazu’s question in the Washington Post this last week, black lives will not matter to Evangelical institutions as long as they are captive to funding by anti-black, queerphobic capitalists. Black lives will not matter to them as long as they prioritize the police over their victims. Black lives will not matter to them as long as they are in an antagonistic posture against LGBTQ people of color. Black lives will not matter to them as long as Black Thought and Black Theology is seen as inferior and outside of orthodoxy.

 

——

*I know this is all very unfamiliar with those of us from state and non-fundamentalist university backgrounds. However, this form of boundary-policing has been an essential aspect of fundamentalist praxis since The Fundamentals were released.

16 Things to Look Forward to in 2016, Chicago

Vigil for Bettie Jones last weekend. Jones was a Chicago grandmother shot by police for answering the door during domestic dispute as cops were shooting through her to 21 year old with a bat.

  1. Rahm Emanuel’s resignation. And not just for the Laquann McDonald cover-up but for hosts of things, some of which will be covered here.
  2. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez getting booted from office. She was part of the cover-up as well and has been extremely pro-police and pro-incarceration in ways that rival Daley and Giulliani’s pre-mayoral runs as SA’s. I wouldn’t be surprised if she also was planning on running for mayor of Chicago. You can’t use the full weight of the state’s attorney office to cover you any longer, Anita!
  3. Fewer jails. Jail and jail time, with or without prison, lead to time away from work, from the community, from family. Thus they work against communities of color and lead to cycles of poverty and high-crime, particularly where
  4. More restorative justice hubs. The amount of money that Cook County spends on incarceration contrasted with restorative justice – where the person who made an infraction works within the community to make amends and learn how to deal with issues that caused the problem in the first place – is beyond absurd. It is a fraction of a percent, at around $0.5 million to the jail’s $360 million and we need to at least double it the next year.
  5. End cash bonds. These unfairly restrict poor people, primarily those who are charged with petty crimes. Cash bonds put undue pressure on poor people – usually black Chicagoans – and the justice system, including crowding jails and tagging innocent people with guilty pledges so that they can go home. They then have an adverse affect on poor communities of color.
  6. Restore community mental health centers.
  7. Abolish Broken Windows Policing.
  8. Disband the current, corrupt, ineffecient, police-caping Independent Police Review Authority and make it truly independent.
  9. Establish proper, completely independent (no police, no police connections) oversight of the IPRA.
  10. Disarm the police. No shots. No tasers. They must learn to deescalate using actual tactics of deescalation.
  11. National gun control laws that make it nearly impossible to sell large amounts of guns – which are then smuggled into urban areas like Chicago and make it likely to end up in a shooting of
  12. Drastically increase violence intervention and prevention programs such as CeaseFire.
  13. Reorganize the Chicago Public Schools Board. It is run by capitalists and for capitalists.
  14. Fully fund publicly-controlled schools.
  15. Remove Chicago police resource officers from schools.
  16. Insert violence prevention programs and training for all staff at all CPS schools in order to equip students with violence reduction & prevention tools and embodied practice.
Ash Wednesday protest against police violence. Photo by Nancy Stone for the Chicago Tribune

Ash Wednesday protest against police violence. Photo by Nancy Stone for the Chicago Tribune

Best of 2015: Comic Book Adaptations

Due in large part to grad school, I haven’t read much in the way of books this year, nor watched a lot of movies or listened to new music (OK, that one is on me. Although I loved both Kendrick and Sufjan’s new albums). But what I have been religiously devoted to are comic book adaptations for the screen. Fortunately, this has been a really good year for them and we are living in a golden age of Superhero TV. The following list is fairly comprehensive of the major comic book brands (DC & Marvel), missing two film adaptations (Ant-Man, which will be watched whenever I get around to it, but only because I like Paul Rudd whose talents seem better suited on Parks & Recreation and both Wet Hot Summers; and Fantastic Four, which I was looking forward to watching until reading reviews, similarly for Amazing Spider-Man the previous year) and all-but-one animated adaptation (not a fan of any of the Disney😄 shows right now and have yet to watch Bruce Timm’s Justice League: Gods and Monsters). While ranked, only one entry was worse than average.

10) Avengers 2: Age of Ultron – After the amazement that was Avengers and the bomb that was Captain America: Winter Soldier, not to mention the rest of Whedon-y, AoU was a singular let-down. It really felt soul-less and stifled, as if Joss was not allowed to be Joss here.

9) Vixen – Too short to be a thriller with several animated clips on the WB’s web page, but a lot of promise. Here’s to her appearance in the Arrow-verse, and likely in the second season of Legends of Tomorrow.

8) Gotham – If you’re expecting the transfiguration of Bruce Wayne or an origin story for Batman, you’ll be disappointed. Bruce is a snot. This show truly is about its namesake, Gotham, setting the stage for the Bat’s entrance a decade or so later, and its locus is the interlocking dynamics of the obsessed Det. Jim Gordon and the rising-but-petty crime lord Penguin. Jim’s often-singular focus on redemptive violence through the law and his conflicts make for an interesting character study in light of the Black Lives Matter movement (so do many of these shows, though the heroes tend to focus less on petty crimes than on big baddies).

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Up! In the air!

7) Supergirl – It took a while for this show to begin to flex its muscles, to be honest. One definite positive of the show is impetuousness of the main character, which is very much the character of Supergirl. Both incredibly intelligent and ever-ready to risk everything for the ones she loves and sometimes just for the thrill of it. The team she is assembling around her and its take on (an admittedly white, upper-middle class) feminism are both positives and negatives. Martian Manhunter, however, is one of my favorite heroes – a being in many ways stronger than Superman but filled with doubt and loneliness.

6) Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – “His first name is Agent.” This show has so much double-crossing I’m always interested to see how far ahead of the field Coulson is thinking. And there’s May. I love May.

5) Agent Carter – SHIELD’s main complaint is that it has to stretch its story through an entire season. Agent Carter, however, packs a punch all throughout. Nowhere near as dark as Agents nor Marvel’s Netflix minis, and in this year, that is refreshing.

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I’ve always wanted to say this to Rahm, and now protesters are.

4) Arrow – Ok, this series was running out of steam and becoming incredibly ludicrous toward the end of its third season. But has it ever atoned for it this season with a villain who makes the great Ra’s Al Ghul seem downright civil. Arrow’s dances with villainous forces and his own darker impulses has always kept the show fresh and moving, escaping one impossible situation through a reckless deception and team-up only to raise doubt and conflict with those closest to him, which he then must rebuild. Oliver Queen’s character arc has been building since the beginning, and now in its fourth season, we are finally seeing the hero.

3) The Flash – Right from the beginning and with few faltering steps between, The Flash has inspired and terrified. Reverse Flash, and particularly the way he was developed in this series as a mentor/killer, may have been the most perfect villain ever, but despite it all, Barry Allen is always Barry.

2) Jessica Jones – Wow. First, this is the most adult of series. Not as in darkest or most violent (it was both) but as well-documented on its themes and addressing of rape culture, domestic violence, white male privilege, and abuser dynamics. Not only that, but we have the most conflicted and reluctant superhero for good reason. But, with the aid of sister-love (and a self-awareness that is able to flood out the manipulative, controlling, gaslighting villainous Purple Man), JJ almost-literally smashes [the personification of] patriarchy.

And, finally, #1:

MARVEL'S DAREDEVIL

Did you see this one coming? Huh? Huh? Get it?

Daredevil – Frank Miller’s transformation of the character also inspired the eponymous movie and may be why I didn’t totally despise it. This series is a slow-burn and a completely breathtaking bloody thriller as both Kingpin and Murdoch discover themselves. Daredevil’s super power is in perception, and his humanity is tied with his family, with Christian guilt and struggle. This keeps him as possibly the most earthy of all the superheroes, with or without superpowers. My only regret is that Frank Castle will feature in the next season.

I hate Punisher.

 

Police and Prison Abolition: Dreaming of a More Just, Less Violent World

Because Black people desire to determine their own destiny, they are constantly inflicted with brutality from the occupying army, embodied in the police department. There is a great similarity between the occupying army in Southeast Asia and the occupation of our communities by the racist police.

Huey P Newton (quoted in Bloom and Martin’s Black Against Empire)

To oppressed communities, the occupying army is never a liberator but only a powerful force of the empire that seeks to draw as many resources from the community as possible. In the era of neoliberalism, those resources tend to be of human capital. For various oppressed people within the United States, it looks similar. For Muslim and Near East, South-Asian people in the United States, they serve as intimate reminders of our War on Terror and the need to stockpile in the Military Industrial Complex. For Latin@s, it is the racialized threat of deportation, which extends in high-vulnerability times to more than just undocumented citizens – Latin@s in Anglo US are treated in ways similar to the orientalized Muslims. Native populations are still undergoing cultural and legalized genocide in order to lay claim to lands within the continent. And black Americans are inherently criminalized as a means of social and permanent-underclass control.

Human capital is capitalized through the Military and Prison Industrial Complexes as well as through managing and mitigating migration and migrant labor.

Early morning after Christmas, two black Chicagoans from the West side (just a couple miles from my residence and near where other family lives) were killed by police responding to a domestic dispute between a father and his nineteen year old son. The son – Quintonio LeGrier, an engineering student on leave from Northern Illinois University due to mental health issues – was carrying a bat and apparently threatening the father. The son was fatally shot, as was a downstairs neighbor, Bettie Jones, simply for opening her door. The father had called the police in an effort to get some help for his child, not accustomed to seeing him act in such a way.

LeGrier’s mother told media:

They did tell me he was shot seven times. That’s a bit much. That’s a bit much. I don’t take all of that. My son only weighed about 150 pounds. … Why do you have to be shot that many times? Why? If the police is trained in the field, then how, they’re just handling the situation by killing people?

The police cannot help. That is not their function or purpose. They are raised in a cop culture that treats them as hammers with every loose nail needing a violent solution. This is why they take down a fifty-three year old woman who pose no risk and a one-hundred and fifty pound teen with a baseball bat. They don’t second guess violent solutions because they are not trained to second guess violent and fatal resolutions when it comes to black lives.

LeGrier’s image held by his mother

Consider that, like the US and its military, nearly half of the general budget in Chicago goes towards the police. Consider also, according to the 2016 city budget, Chicago plans on releasing 319 officers from administrative work to directly police in “high crime areas” (p 12). For what purpose? What is a crime and who decides how to aid these communities?

The police are trained, but for what purpose? To police. To enforce borders. To minimize threats to the state and those it represents. In the United States, this threat is represented in the most intimate of ways not by white men who have caused most of the domestic and international violence in this country and through the world, but by the black population – those, as we know, forced into chattel slavery and substandard living conditions for the last four hundred years by the very white populations arming the police to intimidate, detain, and kill.

For the crime of policing – for the reasons of policing and the means of policing – we need reparations. African American and Native communities need recompense for the crimes of genocide, land-theft, chattel slavery and intentional bordering and how police have maintained these structures. Poor communities need recompense for wage and wealth theft and how the police have maintained these structures. But rather than make reparations, we are forced into racial and class policing, to keep us in line and keep the threat of blackness – which is to say the threat of resistance – at bay.

When we ask for accountability and control, we are given alternatives such as community policing, which acts as another way to police the community by training a small faction within – especially gentrifying areas – to police their own. Thus community members assist the police in restraining, detaining, reporting, and confiscating black and brown people.

CAPS [Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy, Chicago’s community & police organizing mechanism] is not an attempt to develop equal partnerships or to cooperatively address problems. They are efforts to police through the community, to enlist certain community figures and organizations to enhance the power and legitimacy of the police…

[C]ommunity policing is a misnomer. These programs result in neither democratic accountability of police agencies nor meaningful changes in police practices. Instead, they mobilize a small group of residents to provide a façade of legitimacy that allows policing to continue as usual. Community policing can result in more aggressive policing as “respectable” residents lobby to the officers to aggressively enforce low-level, nonviolent street crimes. (Counter-CAPS Report)

Rather than continue what does not work – arming and training a force towards violence and incarceration, aimed at poor and black citizens for the most petty of offenses – we need to reduce the police force by at least half and invest into making the community more safe, more whole, more responsive to its own needs. More livable for its own people.

Many of our problems are caused by the generational stigma of poverty and witnessing first-hand experiences of domestic and state violence. Children grow up with PTSD and have little recourse or guidance to deal with their anger in holistic means. Thus, survival becomes reactionary and even proactionary as several young people learn to strike-first or be killed. This is the state of detainment that we have become; not because Chicago’s neighborhoods are filled with bad people without morals, but because our city deals with us immorally.

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Screengrab via Jason Berger. Acknowledgement to John W Brandkamp

A moral budget and a moral city hall would instead divest from the police and from our carceral systems. Instead of the armed and state-backed gang of police roaming the streets looking to escalate in order to terminate conflict, we should hire corps of counselors, clinicians, mental health workers looking to solve and reduce conflict. Job and skill training workshops that feed into actual jobs situated in the communities. Instead of divesting the communities through carceral justice, invest through schools and holistic, reformative justice. Turn empty lots into assisted living complexes, affordable fresh fruit stands, and health clinics built by and run by community members.

Yes, at first it’s going to cost more. It always does when there is generational trauma to pay back. But the investment far outweighs the daily toll of death and destruction.

This reinvestment is something we need to do because we’re human.

A Hillsong Theology I: Hip V Relevant

The GQ piece on the ultra-hip, Hollywood-ish Hillsong NYC Church struck any number of – to me at least – important topics, one of which is this concept of relevance. The truth is, I don’t think Hillsong nor pretty much any megachurch (nor most churches in general) is relevant despite their hipness.

There are a few ways of understanding relevance, I know. As a linguist and a post-modern, I’m aware that there is no ‘pure’ or central definition for such a term. But I want to propose a popular definition of relevance as substantial in opposition to a shallow hipness.

Hillsong United concert, by Jiaren Lau

Hillsong United concert, by Jiaren Lau via Flickr via Wikki

First, as a post-evangelical, there is an ever-rising Hipness Christianity. This is a demonstration of Christianity that keeps up with the times. It’s hipster. It’s vogue. It wears skinny jeans and beards. Of Relevant Magazine.  To paraphrase Christian rap-pop group DC Talk, it “doesn’t change but it rolls with time.” This is what Taffy Brodesser-Anker refers to as: “Christianity’s whole jam [as] remaining Christian” in her terrific but terrifying profile of Hillsong Church in NYC. But that says nothing to me about my life and, unless fashion is all you have, I’m guessing it says little to you about yours either.

If it speaks to us merely because it imitates us, is it relevant? Maybe. But this is what I think of in terms of substantial relevance.

I think of the fact that we tell children that they need to go to school to learn to read and write and do math and recite Shakespeare and solve quadratic equations because it will help them later in life. And that may be true for a number of children. It wasn’t for me and it isn’t for any number of kids who do not see a future where calculus is of any use for them. That’s what teachers will often tell their students because it’s an easy answer. But it’s not, for one of the primary purposes of schools in poor communities of color – and poor White areas as well – is of containment. Not much in the field of education for poor children has changed since the late 19th century – students are still being trained to work in factories, with a rigid, top-down hierarchical approach, rows and columns of students/proletariat facing the front toward the teacher, uniforms, and busy-work presently in the form of standardized tests.

This isn’t to say that good education doesn’t arise from public schooling (and the charter and private schools that adhere to this method with apocalyptic zeal), but that in a very real sense, school for poor children is systemically broken. We tell kids to do something that may not hold interest to them and when they ask why – which is what kids do because they are children – we tell them it’s for their future benefit somewhere down the line. That somewhere-down-the-line may as well be imaginary for kids and youth. Why do we believe that children and teens (who are by now tired to death of hearing the same lines and seeing few results) who live in the present will attempt their best for a future decades down the line, let alone one that may never arise?

What if, instead, students learned skills that were not only useful for some future, undisclosed and blurry time but now? What if reading, writing, math, and social studies could be used to organize for better living conditions currently? Or analytical skills were sharpened to wake minds?

This is what I think of when I think of relevance. Something useful, not just hep. Something substantial. The Hip Classroom will use computers and hip hop to teach about dead white men. The Relevant Classroom will consider the edifice of hip hop and the structure of the internet.

The Hip Church will feature Justin Bieber-like music, cool clothes and a unique hat. It will be attractive, but not sexy. It may tell gay and lesbian people they are welcome to worship there. But they will not be welcome as functionally sexual beings. It will have an ethnically diverse congregation (and maybe even non-Whites in leadership), but teach an Anglo-White theology that centers individualism. It may tell you that God loves you as you are, but punishes you for gender and sexual transgressions as they understand it.

This is Hillsong. A church that fires worship leaders for “practicing” homosexuality.

Hillsong Australia, via wiki

Hillsong Australia, via wiki

It will teach a disembodied heaven and the long way to get there but with cool dressing. It’s a literal flash in the pan.

Hipness is inherently shallow. A hip education or ecclesiology will have you turn from yourself, leave behind your home language and reject your family and friends and body and sexuality, for a pie-in-the-sky notion that may or may not pan out decades later. But it can do so because its sheen veneer tricks you into thinking that it works for the present.

The Relevant Church (in this understanding) may or may not be cool, but it will speak to your soul and refashion your vision to think from the present to the future. It will remodel Christianity to its core, which is not rescuing from the world and the self but loving the world and the self within it.